Cornerstone screens approximately 4,300 students

Cornerstone screens approximately 4,300 students

Observer West reporter

Thursday, November 21, 2019

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NEGRIL, Westmoreland — Cornerstone Jamaica, a non-profit organisation, as part of its mission to provide eye care for students across the country is reporting that they have prescribed glasses for 644 children of approximately 4,300 screened since starting their vision-correction journey, initiated in western Jamaica four years ago.

In collaboration with Mission of Sight, the Rotary Club of Negril, and Indiana University School of Optometry over 800 students were screened at five schools in western Jamaica during the fourth annual 'See Better, Learn Better' eye-care clinic.

Founder of Cornerstone Jamaica, retired American businessman, Gary Robinson, outlined that the first step for his team of volunteers is to go into the schools and screen the students to determine whether or not “the children need an eye exam”.

“We recently brought down 18 third-year optometry students with their six professors. We brought the Indiana University School of Optometry, a dozen Cornerstone volunteers came from the US and all over Jamaica, and we congregated in Westmoreland, and I am proud to say that we helped a tremendous amount of children in the right way. It's not just about making them see better, they will learn better,” Robinson told Jamaica Observer West.

He noted that after conducting the eye exams if needed, the children are afterwards provided with a pair of glasses at a minimal cost of US$20.

He noted that “because kids grow and prescriptions change, each year there's a follow-up on the students who are treated.

He expressed his vision to take the programme islandwide but noted that the programme would be more affordable and successful if an optometry school is established in Jamaica.

“We bring in doctors who are qualified to come in, but importantly, we need to grow our doctors in Jamaica, have a school at UWI or somewhere like that and create jobs for people who can make the frames and so forth. We cannot continue to bring down this talent from the United States, it's too expensive. We can do it for as long as we can, but then hopefully, we'll have to plan for more organic solutions to a really important problem,” Robinson argued.

“We are gonna, hopefully, take this programme islandwide. We have applied for national funding, partnership with the Government, there are so many things that can happen”.

Robinson revealed that Cornerstone Jamaica was established in 2011 when he started donating clothes to needy residents in sections of Westmoreland after his wife recovered from lung cancer.

This, he said, however, eventually evolved into the eye-care programme.

“I happened to notice on my drive from the Montego Bay airport to Negril these beautiful children waiting for their rides and no one was wearing glasses and I said to myself 'isn't this great we are closer to the equator, the sun rays are stronger and nobody needs glasses and then I got to thinking a little bit more about it,” he recounted.

He said he found out that it was not because the children don't need glasses, “it's because they don't have access to them”.

“Parents and teachers did not know they had a problem until we started rolling in. Part of our job going across the island is to create awareness,” he stressed.

Nerissa Stephens, acting principal at Little London Primary in Westmoreland, who welcomed Cornerstone Jamaica, noted that a lot of parents are unable to afford eye care.

“Some parents are unable to provide the eye care because it is quite expensive in Jamaica, so they defer from doing the eye care and have the children in the regular educational system and the difficulty gets to the worse stage,” she said.

Mark Swainbank, operator of Zimbali Retreats, who provided lunch for the team, indicated that he was happy to contribute to the cause.

“For me, to make children see better is to make them learn better, and that goes without saying. It was just a no-brainer for me to partner,” Swainbank said.

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